Sectoral Debate kicks-off

Sectoral Debate kicks-off

Inside Parliament

With Balford Henry

Sunday, April 21, 2019

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Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips seems in a rush to get back to the round table to discuss the alarming rate at which murders seem to be picking up since the closure of the States of Emergency (SOEs) in January.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, on the other hand, seems intent on completing his new crime-fighting project, Plan Secure Jamaica, which he says will target a reduction in murders below the regional average of 16 per 100,000 (under 500) within the next decade.

There was a period of hope during 2018 that the Government and the Opposition would not offer separate routes to controlling crime, but would continue with the States of Emergency focusing on the criminals, backed up by the Zones of Special Operation (ZOSOs) focusing more on the non-criminal elements and spending more on social intervention.

The Opposition constantly promoted the virtues of the ZOSOs, as would most MPs, because it does provide an option to the underfunded Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to make improvements in their constituencies, so they were less inclined, from the beginning, to embrace the SOEs. Another issue is that, as the SOEs have offered the best response to major crimes in recent years, the Government obviously would get the credit.

However, it is obvious, that at least for the time being, the ZOSO, without private sector support, is doomed to remain a vital but very limited response to the problem.

So the Vale Royal Talks, which the prime minister had suggested in 2018 following the report of the Commission of Enquiry into the 2010 Tivoli operation, to discuss the commission's most important recommendation, which was to seek to dismantle the “garrisons”, lost focus and virtually just did not happen.

In responding to the prime minister's promise last Tuesday that his Government would seek to increase the number of ZOSOs soon, MPs on both sides relished the idea. In fact, the Opposition Leader expressed concern why it had remained limited to just two areas, when it was obviously supported by the MPs.

Dr Phillips even offered a suggestion which he felt could speed up the rate of introducing more ZOSOs, that more focus be placed on the less expensive features of the Zones, like the ZOSO “Peace Day”, “Fun Run”, and the summer camps. Those certainly sound like a lot of fun, but are not serious enough to tackle a situation which is becoming increasingly frightening to Jamaicans, considering the brazenness of the murderers since January when the SOEs closed down.

It would appear that Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang was giving the response to the Opposition, which the prime minister omitted on Tuesday, which is that it would take much more than peace days and fun runs to turnaround the murder figures soon enough for the public to rest assured.

In fact, the brutal murder of an eight-year-old girl in rural St Andrew followed by the brutality meted out to the victim of a vigilante response, last week, must have raised new fears in the minds of both leaders that they had better do something very urgently, or face the mob.

The prime minister said he will be introducing more ZOSOs this year, subject to the right conditions.

Dr Chang said that the Government will not discard the SOEs, which it considers the “most valuable and effective tool” in fighting crime.

The minister also took the time to remind the Opposition that there were no reports of offensive behaviour by the security forces manning the SOEs.

“I would like to indicate that we have come a far way concerning the conduct of our security forces during these periods of increased security powers. It is important to note, that at the end of the State of Emergency there were no claims of extra-judicial killings,” he noted.

“Let me point out here, that it was the JLP Government that amended the Emergency Powers Act to ensure that the Opposition had the right to veto. We have no interest in creating a system of authoritarian activity that denies our citizens of their rights and, in particular, the disrespect of our young men. I feel very strongly about this and have indicated prior, that providing young men with alternatives and a path to personal development, through the relevant curricula, are critical to reducing violence in this country,” he added.

But Dr Chang's announcement of the plans for constructing a “built-for-purpose” police headquarters accommodating over 2,500 cops on lands bordered by Trench Town, Denham Town, Hannah Town and Arnett Gardens suggests that the Government has had a whiff of the coffee and realises that very soon it will have to confront crime more aggressively, to assure the public that the time for playing around with the problem has now passed and something has to give, and give fast.

Bear in mind that a “built-for-purpose” headquarters does not have to be the headquarters of the police force, but the headquarters for the section of the force and the activities that will be carried out at that site. In other words, “built for a particular purpose”.

It might seem a tough decision but, as the saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going”.

The minister also noted that the country has a homicide rate of 47 per 100,000 of the population which he described as a “national crisis way beyond the capacity of normal policing”.

It was certainly a good start to the annual sectoral debate and, hopefully, it will continue to have an impact and not deteriorate into the boring spectacle it has been for the past decade.

The other speaker on Tuesday, Opposition spokesman on energy Phillip Paulwell, quite soberly addressed some issues affecting the energy sector, including the Wigton Wind Farm IPO, Petrojam, National Energy Solutions Limited, JISCO/Alpart, UC Rusal, the Cockpit Country, Windalco and the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited, as well as parochial issues like the Port Royal development and the eastern Kingston corridor.

He called energy “the lifeblood of the Jamaica's economy”, and appealed for the revival of the National Energy Council (NEC), which he had initiated to allow for stakeholder participation in a collaborative process of dealing with the energy portfolio.

He noted that Fayval Williams was appointed minister of science, energy and technology “during perhaps the most tumultuous period in the energy sector”.

“She has a tough task ahead, and I wish her nothing but the best. However, as I did with her predecessor (which fell on deaf ears) I ask her, with this Parliament and the nation as witnesses, please restore the National Energy Council. Avail yourself of the invaluable support and guidance to me as minister, the ministry and the energy sector,” Paulwell said.

He said that he had deliberately engaged stakeholder representatives, (including the then Opposition) in regular consultations, established the council and held quarterly meetings to accommodate feedback; review developments; set targets; promulgate policies and programmes; and ensure timely and seamless implementation during his tenure as minister.

The public will certainly be looking forward to the responses to these opening presentations. The latest schedule released by Gordon House states that this week when the debate resumes the speakers will be Audley Shaw, who is the only person so far confirmed for the week.

Minister of tourism, Edmund Bartlett, is down to speak the following Tuesday, April 30; Minister of Health Christopher Tufton on May 7; and Fayval Williams on May 14. It is likely that Bartlett will table the Pension Bill for tourism workers when he speaks, as well.

Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague, will respond to Paulwell on mining on June 4, and Opposition spokesman on national security Fitz Jackson will respond to Dr Chang on June 25, when he speaks after Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte.

Other speakers confirmed so far are: Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck, on June 21; minister of local government and community development, Desmond McKenzie, on July 28; minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, Olivia Grange, on June 11; minister of labour and social security, Shahine Robinson, on June 18; minister without portfolio, Mike Henry, on July 2; minister without portfolio, JC Hutchinson, on July 9; minister without portfolio, Daryl Vaz, on July 16; and minister without portfolio, Karl Samuda, on July 23, when Dr Chang is expected to close the debate.

Cayman Islands former premier attends Vaz's swearing-in

It was an occasion he couldn't miss. Former premier of the Cayman Islands and current speaker of their House of Representatives William McKeeva Bush was at Gordon House last Tuesday for the swearing-in of the newly elected MP for Portland Eastern Ann-Marie Vaz.

Bush, who represents the district of West Bay in the Cayman Islands, has several relatives in the St Elizabeth area of Jamaica and is a close friend of the Vazes. He has visited Jamaica on numerous occasions, including for the swearing-in of Prime Minister Andrew Holness in February 2016.

The other very important guests announced by the speaker of the Jamaican Parliament, Pearnel Charles, was the 99-year-old grandmother of the new MP, Eva May Wright, and Mayor of Montego Bay Homer Davis.

This Week's Parliament Schedule

Tuesday, April 23 — House of Representatives sits at 2:00 pm.

Wednesday, April 24 — Public Administration and Appropriations Committee meets at 10:00 am to review the Bank of Jamaica, Planning Institute of Jamaica, and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.

Wednesday, April 24 – House (Regulations) Committee meets at 1:00 pm.

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